What Is Administrative Law?


Administrative law provides the legal framework for a myriad of government agencies and departments that exercise statutory authority. It aims to create effective protocols and limit the exercise of governmental power over individuals and businesses.


Anyone representing a client that interacts with state and local or federal government organizations should be familiar with this area of law.

Defining Administrative Law

Administrative law covers laws and regulations passed by governmental agencies, such as the Department of Labor, Federal Communications Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission and state workers’ compensation boards. These laws govern the way these agencies carry out, administer and enforce the various statutes passed by Congress or a state legislature. Though some textualist scholars believe that establishing these agencies was unconstitutional, most courts today consider them constitutional in a practical and functional sense.

These agencies exist to deal with a myriad of issues that are too complicated and/or cumbersome for the legislature to deal with on a regular basis. This includes everything from environmental regulation, to health care and professional licensing. The proliferation of these agencies has grown over the last century as society has generally become less averse to governmental intervention in business and professional affairs.

The rules and regulations passed by these agencies are similar to laws passed by the legislature. For example, these agencies can impose penalties on those who do not comply with their rules and regulations (e.g., a doctor or lawyer who does not follow the rules and regulations set by a governing body could lose their license). These agency decisions are then reviewed and judged in an administrative proceeding similar to that of a court case by a superior court, which reviews the decision making process to determine whether the agency acted properly.

Creating Administrative Agencies

In order to implement the laws that Congress enacts, administrative agencies must develop detailed rules and procedures. These are called regulations (also known as statutes). The federal government’s main source for its regulatory law is the Code of Federal Regulations. The regulations are arranged both chronologically and by subject, and are available online at GovInfo for free, as well as in print at KF 70.A2. The Code of Federal Regulations is also available at HeinOnline, Bloomberg Law, LexisNexis and Westlaw.

Typically, Congress 성범죄전문변호사 creates an agency to address a specific felt public need. For example, after the stock market crash of 1929, Congress created a number of agencies to help regulate the financial sector of the economy. More recently, it created the Homeland Security Department to protect against terrorist attacks.

Many states and localities also operate with agency-like departments and commissions to adjudicate particular issues. While these may be subject to a limited amount of judicial review, they are generally not considered part of the administrative law framework.

Although some textualist scholars argue that administrative agencies are unconstitutional because they delegate law-making powers to them, most modern jurisprudence deems them constitutional and necessary in a functional and pragmatic sense. It is a fact that Congress cannot effectively pass legislation to govern all of the complex and ever-changing spheres of human activity, so it must rely on agencies to help administer, interpret, and enforce the laws it enacts.

Enabling Statutes

When Congress or a state legislature creates laws, they often need help determining all of the details about how those laws will be enforced and implemented. This is where administrative agencies and government departments come in, creating rules and regulations to ensure that the law is carried out correctly. These rules and regulations are known as administrative law, and their legality is determined by the enabling statutes that grant them their authority.

Enabling statutes can be found in many different forms. For example, a mandatory statute compels the performance of an act in a particular way, while a directory statute merely states what can be done but does not compel its performance. Both types of statutes are classified as statutory law and are subject to the same constitutional and judicial review as any other form of statutory law.

As a general rule, a legislative body cannot limit the power of an administrative agency to the extent that it would violate a constitutional right. This is why most enabling statutes give administrative agencies the ability to exercise broad discretion in their decision making. These decisions are then judicially reviewed for consistency and fairness by courts, which determine whether the agency exceeded its statutory powers.

In addition to establishing the lawful scope of an administrative agency, enabling statutes can provide additional tools such as subpoena power or the ability to enforce a penalty for noncompliance with a rule. To find a statute that governs an issue, research local ordinances or consult an annotated code, such as the United States Government Manual (JK 421.A31) or a free website that offers city and county primary materials.

Administrative Enforcement

While Congress can pass laws on a wide range of issues, it is often difficult to determine the precise ways in which those laws will be implemented and enforced. This is where administrative law comes in. It provides the legal framework within which agencies and departments of government carry out public administration, ensuring that they do so in a constitutionally permissible way.

As the research on this guide shows, federal agencies possess attributes of all three traditional branches of government: They make rules (a legislative function); investigate matters under their jurisdiction and administer penalties for violations of those rules (an executive function); and adjudicate disputes brought before them by private parties (a judicial function). To survive legal scrutiny, these activities must be undertaken pursuant to a valid delegation of law-making authority and afford procedural due process to individuals subject to their jurisdiction.

Anyone who represents a client that interacts with government agencies is likely to need to have an understanding of administrative law. To be effective, a lawyer needs to know the fundamentals of how these agencies are structured and what their functions are, as well as how to challenge maladministration.

In addition to the material on this guide, it is also important to understand the relevant state law and how it affects these proceedings. For example, the law of Wisconsin requires that when an agency subpoenas records from a company or individual, it must be limited in scope, specific in purpose and directive, and comply with other constitutional protections such as the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.